News Column

Artful Learning curriculum slowed but back on track, principal says

August 3, 2014

By Mary Keck, Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.

Aug. 03--If you look on Fairview Elementary's website, you'll see it described as an Artful Learning school, yet full implementation of the Artful Learning framework stalled last year.

The school's new principal, Justin Hunter, says he is committed to getting it back on track.

The Monroe County Community School Corp. board unanimously approved an Artful Learning model for Fairview Elementary in 2010. The program teaches students essential skills through the lens of art, and it was seen as a strong means to improve student performance in a difficult environment.

Artful Learning was praised by former principal Karen Adams, who championed the program as a way to improve performance at the chronically underperforming school at the same time the old school building, with parts dating to 1928, was rebuilt and designed with Artful Learning in mind. The new $13 million, 83,000-square-foot Fairview opened in 2010.

Patrick Bolek, the national lead trainer for Artful Learning Inc., remembers walking through the school among the exposed beams and girders while it was under construction.

"This was a very exciting time for Fairview, a time of rebirth and renewal," Bolek said.

Choosing the Artful Learning school improvement model was a decision that took several years, Adams told the board in 2010. Federal Title I school stimulus funds covered the cost of training teachers and staff by Artful Learning Inc., the company that developed the plan. The three-year training program cost $68,640 annually.

"I thought it was and I still do think it's a great opportunity to deliver instruction in a little different way," said Sue Wanzer, a school board member. Both Wanzer and Keith Klein, board president, have said the school board is committed to Artful Learning.

When students entered the new school in the 2010-11 academic year, teachers, administrators and even school board members were trained to use the cross-curriculum Artful Learning framework in class, and students began using inquiry and project-based learning.

The board saw it as a chance to give Fairview the draw of a magnet school, and opened up enrollment for families across the district in 2011.

While Wanzer feels the board's decision to offer open enrollment at Fairview has had some positive influence and helped to bring in some families with higher incomes, she isn't sure it's done enough.

"It hasn't had the kind of turnout that I was hoping it would have," she said. "I thought we would have a waiting list. It didn't happen that way."

It's four years later, and Artful Learning is still at Fairview, but the final component that would make it sustainable isn't finished. During parent focus group meetings in the spring, some Fairview parents said they didn't know what Artful Learning was, and training of teachers had fallen behind.

That's been corrected, said Hunter last week, and all teachers will be up to speed this school year.

According to Bolek, the project slowed in the summer of 2013, after Adams' retirement. Continuity was further hurt when Adams' replacement, Tommy Richardson, stepped down in November, returning to the classroom as a teacher at Arlington Heights Elementary School.

At that time, Miller, the district's director of elementary education, stepped in as interim principal.

Miller said she wasn't sure why progress on the Artful Learning contract had stalled.

Bolek isn't certain, either. "We've just been in a holding pattern with them," he said earlier this summer, adding that the company remained committed to completing its end of the bargain.

Now, with Hunter's promise of Fairview's recommitment, that can move forward.

"Artful Learning is a critical part of Fairview," Hunter said. "It is going to be kept. It's going to be enhanced, and we are going to complete the process."

Artful Learning Numbers -- including enrollment and test scores since the introduction of Artful Learning. Funding for Artful Learning

Fairview enrollment:

2009-2010: 216

2010-2011: 300 (New building/artful learning)

2011-2012: 303

2012-2013: 387

2013-2014: 385

Open Enrollment:

2012-2013 -- 25 students

2013-2014 -- 24 students

2014-2015 -- approximately 25 depending on final enrollment on the first day.

*These are the number of students who have come into Fairview who don't live within the district.

Funding for Artful Learning:

2010: $68,640 annually of Title I funding over a three-year period for Artful Learning


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Source: Herald-Times (Bloomington, IN)

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